Character Amnesia

It seems that technology may be creating as many problems as it solves.  In this case, the problem created is being called “character amnesia.”  That is, Chinese and Japanese youth, online for much of their lives, are forgetting how to write many of the characters used in their languages.

Despite the recent news, this is definitely not a new phenomenon.  As far back as the 1980’s, I was already hearing of Japanese forgetting how to write kanji due to the increasing ubiquity of ワプロ or word processors.  While the ワプロ of the 80’s may have gone out of style, the use of keyboards as character input devices, be they on laptops or smart phones, seems to have contributed to a loss of ability in writing characters by hand.  I, myself, certainly lost much of my ability to hand-write Japanese as I got more into typing the language on keyboards.

According to an article on, there is even a Chinese phrase to describe the phenomenon: 提笔忘字 [tibiwangzi], or “take pen, forget character.”

In another article on, Chris Matyszczyk opines, “This amnesia might seem like a problem only for character-based languages, but I wonder whether they’re the only victims. Surely you, too, have seen, say, the English language increasingly tortured by the uncertain hands of those who spend far too long touching keys rather than pens, books, or other humans.”

This has certainly been a concern of mine for a while now.  While I can still read and type Japanese with no problem, remembering how to write kanji by hand is a real problem.  What are your thoughts?